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Z. Gloria Morales: ‘A Soldier’s Tale’

/ 12:24 AM April 04, 2016

FIRST OF all, my apologies to members of PMA Class 1964. In my last column, I mentioned that in the history of the PMA, only two cadets graduated as first captain (commander of the cadet corps) and class topnotcher. These were Aristeo Ferraren (Class of 1938) and Leopoldo Regis (Class of 1951).

On the same day the column appeared, Commodore Julito Casillan (Class of 1967) e-mailed me the information that Cadet Manuel Arevalo (Class of 1964) was both the class valedictorian and first captain. Casillan and Arevalo were not classmates but they belonged to the same cadet company.

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A few days later, Navy Capt. Winston Arpon (Class of 1964) wrote to say that his classmate, Manuel Arevalo, was “baron” and topnotcher of the class. The two were roommates when Arevalo was the first captain and Arpon was on the regimental staff. Arpon would later become “Bravo” company commander.

There is an interesting story in connection with Arevalo’s graduating as the class topnotcher. According to one of his classmates, three months before graduation, Arevalo’s class standing was actually No. 2. At around the same time, the No. 1 cadet was involved in an honor violation that eventually led to his resignation. This turn of events put Arevalo at the top of his class, giving him the Presidential Saber as well as the AFP Chief of Staff Saber for being the first captain.

* * *

Today, April 4, marks the 60th anniversary of PMA Class 1956. Jose C. Bello Jr., from Ilocos Sur, was the class valedictorian while Rodrigo B. Gutang of Cebu, was the first captain. Last Saturday, a merienda cena was held at the residence of Paul and Dolly Canalita in Antipolo, to mark the

occasion. It was also Paul’s 84th birthday.

* * *

At age 96, my Air Force colleague, Lt. Col. Zacarias “Zac” Morales, has put together in a wonderful book the experiences of a lifetime—from his birth in San Francisco, Panaon Island, in Southern Leyte, to his retirement as a military officer and corporate executive in Davao City. Along the way, he joined the Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC), fought on the battlefields of Bataan, participated in the Death March, and escaped from captivity with the help of kind strangers who gave him food and shelter.

* * *

Mindanao in the 1930s was not an easy place to get an education unless one had wealthy parents. Elementary schools were established only in large municipalities while the high schools were generally located in the provincial capital. A high school diploma was considered quite an achievement.

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Zac Morales went to school rather late in life. He was older than 7 years. As he explained, “We were made to extend our arms over our head and to reach the opposite ear. If one could not reach the ear, he was too young for enrollment. If he qualified, he went directly to Grade 1. There was no preschool or kindergarten.”

* * *

The National Defense Act of 1935 mandated the creation of a citizen army. All able-bodied male Filipino citizens 20 years of age, were to undergo compulsory military training for five-and-a-half months. They would then be part of the Philippine Army Reserve Force.

This legislation would be his passport to a career in the Armed Forces. From infantry training schools in Misamis

Occidental, Cagayan de Oro and Zamboanga City, Morales would eventually end up with the PAAC in Zablan Airfield located within Camp Murphy (now Camp Aguinaldo). Morales was assigned with the 5th Photographic Squadron and his first commander was Lt. Jesus Villamor, the World War II ace after whom the Philippine Air Force base in Pasay City is named. Here he began to learn the rudiments of photography, ground and aerial. He was also taught how to develop film, how to print and enlarge pictures. In 1941, the PAAC would be the first military command to be inducted into the US Armed Forces in the Far East (Usaffe).

* * *

When war broke out on Dec. 8, 1941, all units of the Usaffe, including the PAAC, were ordered to proceed to Bataan in accordance with War Plan Orange. The plan called for the concentration of military forces in one bastion for more effective resistance while waiting for support and reinforcements.

PAAC elements under Maj. Pelagio Cruz, a 1935 graduate of the PMA, occupied Saysain Cove. Morales and his squad-mates were to defend the beach against enemy landings. Among other officers in the area was Capt. Augusto Jurado who, like Major Cruz, would one day serve as commanding general of the Philippine Air Force. As the situation deteriorated, rations started to dwindle. From small amounts of boiled rice with sardines, it became watery porridge with just a pinch of salt. Severe hunger and dehydration began to take a toll on the men.

Morales talks about starvation in the trenches: “Your belly is full of air and grumbles incessantly. Your body is sluggish and it is difficult to maintain your equilibrium. Your brain is slow to respond and memory fails. Your knees are weak, and walking is a great effort. Your vision deteriorates; even your hearing suffers.”

On April 9, 1942, a messenger from the command post came with the news: We have surrendered. Weapons are to be destroyed and all ammunition dumped into the sea. The mile-long convoy from across the Pacific, that was supposed to relieve the defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, was simply a myth designed to maintain the morale of the troops.

Morales had this to say about the surrender. “I doubt that anyone in Bataan at the time, Filipino or American, knew that Washington had already decided to defend England first before the Philippines, and that the mile-long convoy never existed.”

As the soldiers prepared for what would be known as the Death March, it was the steady and calm voice of Maj. Cruz who kept the men together, exhorting them to maintain their dignity in the presence of the enemy.

* * *

After the war, Morales would marry the lovely Lily

Caballero whom he had met in Cotabato in 1943. When she passed away after 63 years of marriage, it seemed that “the lights in his life went out.”

It is to his children Liza, Dick, Gigi, Christine, Mike and Mark, all successful professionals, that the author dedicates his book:

“A man’s most valuable asset in life is his children. Jewels in the vault, real estate, or life insurance, do not compare with his children when he reaches advanced age. A walking cane can be a treacherous support; it can even cause a slide that leads to a fatal fall. But a mature child’s strong arms can steady a father’s wobbling knees. What my children give me is what money cannot buy. It is deep, undiluted love for their father.”

The book launch is scheduled for tomorrow evening at the Marco Polo Hotel in Davao City.

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TAGS: 5th Photographic Squadron, Aristeo Ferraren, Leopoldo Regis, National Defense Act of 1935, Philippine Military Academy, PMA, PMA Class 1964
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